Are You Incompetent or Just New?

Imposter syndrome is a common problem for junior developers. Junior developers may struggle with the infinite questions, the overwhelming feeling of how little they know, and the helplessness of not being able to contribute. Though all these concerns are normal and valid, this feeling is a powerful engine that can drive you to work hard to accelerate your learning. When you’re surrounded by experienced developers, there are ways of using that feeling as motivation for your development.

Imposter syndrome initially invites uncertainty, lack of direction, and insecurity. Normally this negativity may bring you down because you feel you are lacking in ability. However, it’s important to admit to yourself that you are simply just new at this. You may feel there’s too much you don’t know, and the ability gap between you and that senior developer seems an ocean away. But, you can tell yourself that you want to overcome your insecurity by giving yourself direction and taking steps to clear the uncertainty. So below is an approach you could try if you’re interested in overcoming imposter syndrome.


When you are assigned a story, there may be a lot of unknowns. Of course, the most valuable solution is to just ask your senior developer. However, there are many instances when they are preoccupied or it may feel intrusive to bombard them with your abundant questions. So, rather than immediately going to your senior developer for these questions, first start an exploration to answer some of your unknowns.

So to know what your unknowns are, consider the following:

  • What are some technical/project terminologies I don’t know?
  • What are some concepts/tech stacks I need to learn?
  • Do I understand the goal of the story?
  • What layers in the system architecture is the story touching?
  • When I glance through the codebase to see what files are related to the story, are there any classes/methods I am stumped on?

After clarifying what you know, learn, and need to still explore, you can create a list of further questions you need your senior developer’s help with.

Refining Your Questions

Of course, you will need to eventually go to your senior developer to help fill gaps of understanding. Yet, as previously mentioned, your senior developer may be busy. So, you will need to make sure your questions are refined to clearly convey what you want to know.

A suggested format that can enhance the quality of your questions is:

  1. Conflict: What is the problem? Can you show it in the codebase or demonstrate it?
  2. Considerations: What have you tried to explore? Or what solutions did you attempt so far?
  3. Gaps: What are the unknowns you still do not know or understand?

Additionally, if you don’t want your senior developer to reveal the answer, you can first ask them to ask questions that will steer you in the right direction.

Returning to Exploration

If your senior developer has not yet revealed a solution, then the fun begins. You can start experimenting with different solutions that came to mind during your discussion with your senior developer. If you still don’t have a clear vision of how to approach the story or problem, you can break it down by creating a list of tasks or sub-problems. From there you can target each task/sub-problem and repeat the exploration until you discover new approaches.

Benefits of the Approach

First, giving yourself a template of steps that helps you have a deeper understanding of a story/problem can alleviate much of your fears. With this template, there is at least a direction that will remind you that even though there’s little you know right now, this template or a template you create is going to help you know so much more.

Secondly, imposter syndrome is usually amplified because of that ability gap. Yet, if you have done your best to fill in the gaps of your understanding and refined your questions, then you are contributing. The quality of your conversation with a senior developer is enhanced far more than immediately asking them a generic question. Further, you experience those small wins when you can break down your questions. Plus, you never know — the questions you raise may bring a new angle to the problem no one else has yet considered.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome should not be a negative feeling. Rather, that feeling should be redirected toward the motivation to refine your process. Make sure you are asking the right questions when you’re exploring. Then, asking your senior developer specific questions shows you have put significant thought into the problem. Then you have direction and your senior developer can efficiently help you. So, yes, for now, you’re new and you don’t know a lot yet. But, you’re going to, and with each step you take, you can only level up!


Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *